What is Nylon?
We all use umbrellas, stockings, socks, toothbrushes in our day to day lives. Most of us have also come across this term at some point or other. But have you ever stopped to consider what is nylon? How can one material be both plastic-like as in bristles and pliable as in a pair of socks? Nylon is an umbrella term for synthetic materials. They are processed into different shapes and textures for various uses.
What is Nylon made of?
Nylon is a plastic with super-long, heavy molecules built up of short, continually repeating sections of atoms. The polymers can be mixed with various substances to achieve different variations in properties. This explains why this material has such a varied use.
What is its origin and history?
The American company DuPont introduced Nylon in the 1930s, when they began experimenting to find an alternative to silk. Its invention spanned a nine-year period, under the guidance of American chemist, Dr Wallace Carothers. In 1930, Carothers and his team created two polymers: neoprene, a synthetic rubber greatly used during World War II; the other was a white elastic but strong paste that would later become nylon. The first example Nylon 6,6 was produced by Carothers on February 28, 1935. It contained the desired properties of elasticity and strength. Its production required interdepartmental collaboration at DuPont. This led to the creation of jobs, pulled people out of the Great Depression and furthered the advancement of chemical engineering. The first nylon plant was set up at Seaford, Delaware and commercial production began in December 1939.
DuPont had excellent marketing strategies which created a buzz around the fibre, even before it was available for purchase. It was heralded as being tougher than steel. On October 24, 1939, 4000 pairs of nylon stockings were sold within hours.
However, all this excitement also caused problems. It created an expectation that nylon would be better than silk; that it would be strong, long-lasting and never run. Not to mention, a section of the public had to be contended with, that did not trust synthetic fabrics. Things became worse when a news story claimed that one method of producing nylon involved using cadaverine, a chemical extracted from corpses, though scientists tried to reassure the public that cadaverine could also be extracted by heating coal.
As the years passed, the production of the fabric increased to up to 1300 tons during 1940. However, on February 11, 1942, nylon production was geared towards use in the armed forces. Most manufactured nylon was used to make parachutes and tents for the war. Civilian demands for stockings and lingerie were catered to after the war ended.
However, the stockings were found to be fragile, causing ‘runs’. The textiles lacked absorbency under moist temperatures. Additionally, the fabric felt itchy, clung to the skin and sometimes sparked due to static electricity. This was fixed by blending nylon with other materials such as cotton, polyester and spandex. The blends had the desirable properties of nylon such as elasticity, strength and ability to be dyed, while being low on cost.
How is Nylon made?
Nylon is made by reacting together two large molecules, diamine acid and dicarboxylic acid. They fuse together to make an even larger molecule and give off water. The large polymer formed in this case is the most common type called nylon-6,6. A giant sheet or ribbon of nylon is produced that is shredded into chips. Those becomes the raw material for plastic products. Nylon textiles are made by melting these chips and running them through a wheel with several tiny holes in it to make a fibre. Different hole sizes determine the length and thickness of the fibres.
What is Nylon used for?
One of its common uses is to make women’s stockings and hosiery. The nylon blends are used for making swimwear, track pants, windbreakers etc. Other uses include parachutes, umbrellas, luggage, netting for veils etc. Because of its resistance to heat and cold, strong and lightweight nature, it’s also used to make ropes.
- Resistant to Abrasion
- Easy to wash and dry
- Resists shrinkage and wrinkle
- Can spark due to static charge
- Low absorbency
- Melts if catches fire
Now that you know all about Nylon, why not get a bit more familiar with its texture, finish and print quality? Explore this and several other fabrics in your swatch pack and get creative for your next project. Click on the banner below to see our range of swatch packs and pick the best one for your needs.